January 20 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sharon Braithwaite and Hannah Strange, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021
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9:27 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden's first executive order will require masks on federal property

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

US President-elect Joe Biden puts his mask on after an announcement on Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware.
US President-elect Joe Biden puts his mask on after an announcement on Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware. Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to make the coronavirus pandemic his top priority as he takes office and will kick off his presidency by asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days and requiring their use on federal property.

His first executive order, the "100 Days Masking Challenge," will symbolize the administration's sharp turn from the Trump era by emphasizing recommendations by public health experts.

Why not order everyone to don masks? A president cannot tell states or cities what to do, but a federal mandate will affect federal offices and federal lands and will urge states to do the same.

"This executive action will direct the agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands and by federal employees and contractors," said Biden counselor Jeff Zients, who will be the administration's Covid-19 response coordinator.

"And the president will call on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders and others to implement masking, physical distancing and other public measures to control COVID-19," Zients added.

"This is not a political statement. This is about the health of our families, and economic recovery of our country."

Trump pointedly refused to wear a mask in public throughout his presidency, and Trump political appointees across federal agencies often discouraged mask use among their staff. Largely mask-free events sponsored by the White House were linked to multiple Covid-19 infections, including a party surrounding the swearing-in of Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump was himself hospitalized for a coronavirus infection in October.

Read the full story here:

9:08 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Netherlands proposes curfew and bans flights from UK, South Africa, and South America

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Warning of a third coronavirus wave from more transmissible coronavirus variants, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday his government will try to get parliamentary approval for a nationwide curfew between 8:30pm and 4:30am.

“We need to do the utmost to stay ahead of that third wave, and keep it as small as possible,” Rutte said. “What the cabinet is presenting today will undoubtedly ask a great deal of people again, but it will also yield us a great deal.”

Pending parliamentary approval, people in the Netherlands will not be allowed to be outside between 8:30pm and 4:30am. The curfew would be in effect, like the lockdown, until February 9. The curfew would also mean that all life-sustaining stores, like supermarkets, would have to close at 8:30pm. (There would be a number of exemptions that would require the person to carry a signed letter, written by themselves, explaining their reason for being outside.)

“What we want to achieve is fewer groups, less road usage, and especially fewer home visits – fewer contacts in order to prevent infections,” Rutte said.

Other new measures:

  • The Netherlands will also ban flights, starting Saturday, from high-risk areas, which Rutte identified as the United Kingdom, South Africa, and all countries in South America. But it's worth noting there are exceptions for freight, medical travelers, repatriation, journalists, and elite athletes.
  • A double coronavirus test for those traveling to the Netherlands will now be required. That means travelers will need to have a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure, and a “quick test” right before departure. (Previously only a PCR test was required.)

For background:

The Netherlands has been in lockdown since December 16. Rutte announced last week that it would be extended until at least February 9. It is more stringent than anything implemented during the first wave, in spring 2020, when non-essential shops were allowed to remain open. (They are now closed.)

The number of reported coronavirus infections in the Netherlands are falling but still significant. There were 38,776 positive reported cases in the seven-day period from January 12 to 19, according to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. That was a decrease from the 49,398 reported between January 5 to 12.

9:08 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Vatican starts vaccinating Rome's homeless

From CNN's Hada Messia in Rome

Vatican City started inoculating Rome's homeless community against Covid-19 on Wednesday.

A first group of around 25 individuals gathered in the atrium of the Paul VI Hall to receive their first doses in photos released by Vatican Media.

The group are people permanently housed in the care and residence facilities of the Office of Papal Charities. Further groups are expected to follow in the coming days.

The Vatican commenced its vaccine program a week ago. Pope Francis and former Pope Benedict were confirmed to have received their first doses on Thursday.

Francis has repeatedly discussed vaccination, previously saying people have an "ethical duty" to take the vaccine.

"I believe that ethically everyone should take the vaccine. It is not an option, it is an ethical choice because you are gambling with your health, with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others," the pontiff said in a recent interview with Italy's Canale 5 channel broadcast.


8:27 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden hopes to restore US to world stage in fight against pandemic

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

On his first day in office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to try to get the US back into the world arena in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, aides told reporters.

How will Biden reset the US position? An immediate reversal of President Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization, according to Biden’s counselor and Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.

“America's withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics,” Zients told reporters in a telephone briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“He will take action to cease the previous administration's process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization, and the Biden-Harris administration will participate in the WHO executive board meeting this week.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was the most prominent medical professional speaking about the coronavirus pandemic under the Trump Administration, will speak to the WHO executive board in an official capacity Thursday.

“In addition, tomorrow, the President will fulfill his campaign promise of immediately restoring the National Security Council's Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.” That office, established in 2015 under the Obama administration, was disbanded in 2018, although the Trump Administration denied that meant it had abandoned all pandemic preparedness.

“Moving forward, we will focus on immediate and emerging domestic and global biological threats, and play a critical role in stopping this pandemic and preventing future biological catastrophes,” Zients said.

It won’t be a Day One executive order, but Zients also said, in response to questions, that the administration would reverse the so-called Mexico City policy – a policy denying US federal funding to any organizations globally that support abortion rights. The policy is regularly reversed by Democratic administrations and restored in various forms by Republican presidents.

7:53 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Japan to buy enough Pfizer doses to half of population by July

From CNN's Carly Walsh

Japan has signed a contract to buy enough of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to cover over half of its population this year, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The agreement for 144 million doses would cover roughly 72 million of the country’s 125 million residents. 

According to the broadcaster, 120 million doses of the vaccine are to be delivered by the end of June. 

Health Minister Tamura Norihisa told reporters Wednesday that the government signed the contract on the premise that the vaccine will be approved in Japan, NHK said.

7:24 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Frontline workers could be moved up the UK’s vaccine rollout list

From CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse in London

The next phase of the UK’s immunization program could see frontline workers prioritized, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said on Wednesday.

The JCVI is in charge with overseeing the vaccine rollout with the initial plan being to inoculate people from nine priority groups including care home residents, people aged 50 and over and all individuals with underlying health conditions. How to proceed once these categories have been immunized has not yet been determined but officials and experts have suggested frontline workers could be next.

Anthony Harnden, JCVI deputy chair, told BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday morning that the group is exploring the idea. He said the next stage could also include individuals facing "exposure risk."

“For instance, teachers, policemen who may be exposed to members of the public, children who actually transmit the virus and those that are important to keep the economy running,” Harnden explained. “There are a lot of factors in phase two which we’ll be looking at in depth.”

His remarks echoed those of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel who spoke about the vaccine prioritization plan on several radio shows Wednesday morning.

Answering questions on LBC radio, Patel said frontline workers were being considered for priority access in the next phase of vaccine rollout.

Patel said: “There’s a lot of work that’s taking place…. We have the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunizations that are working with us on making sure we can push policing, fire and frontline [people] -- teachers, others -- when it comes to getting the vaccine.”

In response to queries on why frontline workers were not already a priority group, Patel said: “Primarily because we have a vaccine delivery plan ... to focus on those who are susceptible to dying from Covid which is the over 80s and they have been and they are the priority group, but within that plan of course the next wave will be the frontline workers we're speaking about."

“We’re working with the JCVI … They are the ones that are determining this, it’s not for politicians,” she added.

7:49 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

UK hospitals "like a war zone" due to Covid-19 cases, says government's chief scientific advisor

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

Medics take a patient from an ambulance into a London hospital on Tuesday.
Medics take a patient from an ambulance into a London hospital on Tuesday. Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Some UK hospitals look like a “war zone” due to the influx of Covid-19 patients, the country's Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance told British broadcaster Sky News on Wednesday.

“It is very difficult, it may not look like it when you go for a walk in the park, but when you go into a hospital this is very, very bad at the moment with enormous pressure and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of things that people are having to deal with,” Vallance said.

The UK is currently in the midst of a sharp surge in coronavirus cases and the country hit a record 1,610 deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday - the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Public Health England. The UK currently has the fifth highest death toll from Covid-19 in the world with 91,643 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Responding to a question on when lockdowns might be eased, Vallance commented that “the numbers are nowhere near where they need to be at the moment and need to come down quite a lot further”.

“Vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment or anywhere near it,” he said, emphasizing the need to follow social distancing guidelines - “this is about the restrictive measures that we’re all living under and carrying on with those, we need to make sure we stick with it.”

Over 4 million people in the UK have already received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, yet while this will give protection against “severe illness,” Vallance stressed that “much less” is known about the vaccine’s ability to stop transmission.

7:25 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Third Portuguese minister tests positive within a week

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio in London and Duarte Mendonca in Portugal

A third cabinet minister has tested positive for Covid-19 in Portugal within a week, according to the government.

Minister of the Economy Pedro Siza Vieira tested positive for the vírus Tuesday.

On January 14, Ana Mendes, the labor minister, tested positive, followed by Finance Minister João Leão on January 16,

On Tuesday, Portugal marked the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic, as the Health Ministry recorded 218 Covid-19 related deaths and 10,455 new cases.

As of Tuesday, the death toll stood at 9,246, whilst the total number of coronavirus cases was 566,958, according to the Health Ministry.

Government officials continue to call on the population to stay at home and follow protocol, stressing the need to save lives and protect the national health system.

Medical staff across the country have taken to social media to express concerns over the rising numbers and the impact on their working conditions, with many working overtime and under-resourced.

Portugal has the second worst epidemiological situation in Europe, according to the most recent statistics from Our World in Data, an online scientific publication based at the University of Oxford.

5:34 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Zimbabwe's foreign affairs minister dies from Covid-19

From CNN's Samantha Tapfumaneyi in London

Zimbabwe's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Sibusiso Moyo looks on during a press conference on March 8, 2018.
Zimbabwe's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Sibusiso Moyo looks on during a press conference on March 8, 2018. Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images

Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo has died from Covid-19, according to a government statement.

Moyo succumbed to Covid-19 at a local hospital in the capital Harare early Wednesday.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa confirmed the news on his official Twitter profile.

“It is with a heavy heart that I announce Foreign Minister Dr SB Moyo has died.
“Zimbabwe has lost a devoted public servant and a true hero, and I have lost a friend. He fought his entire life so that Zimbabwe could be free. May he rest in peace,” he tweeted.

Moyo rose to fame after appearing on national television to announce the “mission” in the November 2017 coup that removed the late President Robert Mugabe—while insisting it was not a coup.